The Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) and its mother institution—the Army Institute of Physical Training (AIPT) were raised over 74 years ago on 1 July 1946 with the aim of fulfilling four core aspects of physical training in the Indian Army.
Everything PT Corps
The four areas of APTC's/AIPT’s concentration are: Physical Training (PT), the training and conduct of Sports and Games, Excellence in Sports, and Combat Fitness. For the aspect of Combat Readiness in frontline soldiers, the emphasis is on endurance training, traversing obstacle courses, martial skills such as unarmed combat (UAC), swimming, confidence jumps and combat sports such as boxing for both— officer cadets and recruits. These are coupled with their Battle Efficiency Tests (BPET), Physical Proficiency Tests (PPT), and Instructors Physical Efficiency Tests (IPET).
All these collectively better prepares trainees for the rigours of combat. This state of physical preparedness is required to be maintained in units for all combatants of all arms and services based on the role and task assigned to their units and the specific job profile of the combatants.
Meanwhile, in the pursuit of achieving excellence in sports at both, the national and international level, the periodic Army Sports Policies issued through the Director General Military Training (DGMT) are supposed to cater for identifying, creating, nurturing, promoting, training and participation of talent from the grass root level at units and recruit/regimental training centres and upwards from the Brigade all the way to Command, Army, Services and the National level.
In the words of Lieutenant General Bhopinder Singh, a former DGMT and Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar islands, “Given that AIPT as the nodal and specialist institution can sift individual cases of extreme and potential excellence from overall generic standards—its role in picking talent and harnessing the same towards competitive sports standards, has been exemplary. It is seldom acknowledged that the role of honour from the institute in churning sports personnel, especially in shooting, boxing, gymnastics, wrestling, and athletics is higher than any private or governmental institution in the country.”
‘Fit’ the Requirements
“We have an elaborate and suitably funded organization and any analysis has to validate the parameters of our policy and where it needs modification or amplification,” explained former Army Chief and DGMT General Sunith Francis Rodrigues, to this correspondent. He continued, “We join the Armed Forces to serve and given our operating conditions, need to be physically fit. This is something personal and can best be established by introducing periodic fitness standards for all our soldiers to qualify in.”
Lt Gen. Bhopinder Singh outlined the role of the PT corps in an interview with this correspondent, saying, “As the foremost Military Corps and institution to define, nurture and implement those exacting standards of the Indian Army’s ‘physicality’ – its role in ensuring the ‘kinetic’ ability of its combatants is palpable, incalculable and often, invisible.” He added,
"Given the domain of ‘physicality’, its collateral extension and refinement to excellence in sports is both logical and desirable. Sports and soldiering are positively interlinked as sports not only leads to even higher standards of physicality but also channelises aggression, focus, inculcates a competitive ‘winning’ culture, builds cohesion, enhances esprit de corps and above all, a sense of belonging and pride in a unit, regiment, corps or service. "
He further stated, "It is empirically proven that those soldiers who have excelled in sports at any level tend to exhibit a higher level of courage under fire, confidence, and hunger for success in a battlefield."
The APTC and AIPT have been responsible for building the very foundation of physical fitness for recruits and officer cadets at various regimental recruit training centres and officer training academies. They are also responsible for imparting physical fitness amongst the rank and file of the Army. Every aspect of physical training is carried out by the APTC and the officers/instructors trained under it. The corps has been a pioneer for sports in India since its inception.
Post 1982, 9th Asian Games, both, the Army, and the Services, got a boost for the development of their sports infrastructure at their premier training institutions and sports nodal centres. This enabled the improvement of sports and fitness standards, and resultant laurels achieved by the armed forces.
The conduct of the World Military Games (WMG), with teams from over 100 militaries of the world, at Hyderabad, Secunderabad and Mumbai during Oct 2007 were international-level events conducted mainly by the APTC fraternity and their AIPT trained staff were laudable achievements.
Speaking about APTC’s contribution in the World Military Games, former DGMT and (present) Centre for Land and Warfare Studies (CLAWS) Director Lt Gen (Dr) Vijay Kumar Ahluwalia narrated, “APTC, AIPT and equivalent organisations of the Air Force and the Navy joined the effort with a great sense of commitment and enthusiasm. The conduct of the WMG at Hyderabad, Secunderabad and Mumbai during October 2007 was an International level event, with participation by over 100 militaries of the world.
It must be said to the credit of the APTC officers and other ranks that they planned, trained themselves, acquired the requisite additional skills in certain new events being conducted, and positioned themselves to conduct the event in a flawless manner.”
Another notable contribution of the corps was the overall review of the PT system of training, Physical Efficiency Tests (PET) applicable for all Army personnel across all age groups. This review of PT and PET was carried out under the directions of the then DGMT during the late 80s and early 90s. After several trials, the New PT System and PET were implemented in the Army in 1992 and applicable till date.
Another positive development was at the behest of the Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Shimla between 2011-13.
This was the review of PT in the Army with recommended methodology for attaining and maintaining fitness of all ranks including formulation of a PT Doctrine. This was successfully followed up by AIPT, Pune, under directions of HQ ARTRAC by incorporating the same in the review and revision of existing PT pamphlets and issue of two comprehensive volumes of PT & Allied subjects and PT Doctrine to all concerned units, formations and training centres through HQ ARTRAC.
Lack of Courses: The Course Reality
The shortage of APTC-trained PT instructors at the unit level have been identified as a core problem area according to several individual studies including a recent, 2018-19 Higher Command Course (HCC) award winning dissertation on this subject, highlighting the dwindling number of Officer Physical Training Courses (OPTC) that have adversely affected training at unit level.
Incidentally, till the late 1950s, the ‘Basic Officers PT Course’ was mandatory for all officers.
Overtime and with changing priorities, the number of OPTCs run in a year and their overall strength at AIPT, Pune, got drastically reduced. Presently, every year, the AIPT conducts the AIBC course for approximately 900 other ranks spread over 4 courses of 10 weeks each and 2 OPTC courses for total 60 officers.
Going by the data presented in the studies, and validated by the 'Victory India Campaign' studies and research, amply and elaborately articulated by numerous authors and respondents in these books, the OPTC courses saw a sharp drop from 6, eight week courses, consisting of a total strength of 45 officers per course till the late 1990s being discontinued at one time and later revived to only 2 six-week courses of 30 officers each till present (Sep 2020).
When asked about the shortage of OPTC courses available per year, Lt Gen (Dr) Ahluwalia opined, “One must objectively look at the contours of our operational scenario. India faces many external and internal threats to its security, due to its geo-strategic location, size, demographic profile, and the prevalent politico-social-economic conditions."
The CLAWS director spoke about India’s complex external and internal security threats calling for the commitment of troop numbers, saying “Operational requirements must always be given the highest priority.
“On the other hand, lack of professionally qualified PT instructors is a major reason for the deteriorating physical fitness standards in the army. The physical fitness and its related advantages for better combat effectiveness cannot be overlooked. A correct balance would have to be drawn to train, especially the other ranks, to ensure that units' and regimental centres' requirements of trained PT instructors is met adequately.”
He added, "Without increasing the APTC cadre, one option that merits consideration is that we could increase the cadre strength by drawing minimum essential persons from the army so that at least 2-4 PT NCOs are trained per battalion and equivalent units, by organising additional courses for the men in particular.
Due to prolonged peace tenures and remaining in the same environment, sometimes it becomes a counter-productive exercise. On balance, APTC Corps is an excellent organisation, with motivated and professionally competent staff.”
Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh said, “The onus is on APTC to recognize, adapt and continue contributing to the ‘inner health’ of the Indian Army, albeit, recognizing the ‘new normal’ of operation existence. This will necessitate the optimal use of technology, science-based shorter/capsule courses and even adaptation of new teaching concepts like ‘train the trainer’ that has the logic of cascading skills or embedding APTC personnel in units/regions that work like ‘nodal’ set-ups,"
Today & Tomorrow
Speaking about the future of the APTC, Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh said, “The future of APTC has to morph from a generic institution of excellence to a cutting-edge institution of super specialization like Research & Referral Hospital in the Indian Military Medical domain. A leaner-meaner and more assertive footprint of the same can come if ‘specialist/permanent cadre’ is dedicatedly created for APTC – not only does it instill pride, specialization but also aspiration for joinees e.g. Special Forces.”
He concluded, “The underlying role and contribution of APTC in inculcating and institutionalizing the ‘can do’ spirit of the Indian Army makes it invaluable. The increasingly asymmetric nature of combat tests the physical, mental and even emotional quotient of a combatant.”